Please be warned that this review contains some small spoilers; I will, however, warn the reader before divulging a spoiler, so if you have not read the book yet, it is still possible to read this review!
I had been following Jay Kristoff’s journey through writing this book (along with Gemina, which I’m quite excited about as well), for some time, so I was very excited to finally be able to pick up Nevernight and read it for myself. The very focus of the book – a young assassin with a vendetta – is definitely right up my alley for popular story tropes right now, so obviously I had to read it.
In a land where three suns almost never set, a fledgling killer joins a school of assassins, seeking vengeance against the powers who destroyed her family. Daughter of an executed traitor, Mia Corvere is barely able to escape her father’s failed rebellion with her life. Alone and friendless, she hides in a city built from the bones of a dead god, hunted by the Senate and her father’s former comrades. But her gift for speaking with the shadows leads her to the door of a retired killer, and a future she never imagined. Now, a sixteen year old Mia is apprenticed to the deadliest flock of assassins in the entire Republic – the Red Church. Treachery and trials await her with the Church’s halls, and to fail is to die. But if she survives to initiation, Mia will be inducted among the chosen of the Lady of Blessed Murder, and one step closer to the only thing she desires. Revenge.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, however I must be blunt here – Nevernight was slow to get going, and it took me several days to get into the book. Kristoff had a long build-up, with somewhat off-putting parallel scenes and footnotes (which I’ll discuss later), which made it difficult for the reader to immediately get into the flow of the book. Despite this, should the reader soldier on through a somewhat rough (but potentially necessary) slow, info laden start, there’s quite a spectacular story to be had.
Mia Corvere is a witty, rough assassin-in-training, who will do almost anything to succeed in becoming a Blade in the order of the Red Church. She’s not particularly beautiful, not is she particularly powerful; her strength lies in her mind. She portrays herself as self-assured and capable, despite her private fears and hidden horrors. Mister Kindly, her shadow – cat (he is literally made of shadows), swallows her fear, feeding himself, but also allowing Mia to sleep soundly, without the horrors from her past overcoming the present. Along the way, Mia makes some friends; notably, Tric, a fellow initiate with an equally dark past. The two become steadfast friends early on, assisting each other through the trials they face in the Red Church (both physically and emotionally), despite a plethora of quarrels.
The world-building going on in this book was exceptional. Truly, Kristoff packed a ton of information into the pages, really creating a full picture of this fantasy world, where the three suns almost never set. While this was perhaps integral to understanding the current plot, the info-dumping the reader experiences at the beginning of the book was dry and potentially overwhelming. This brings me to what was certainly my least favourite part of Nevernight – the ever present footnotes. While I understand what Kristoff was going for here (in having Nevernight be a historical documentation of Mia’s journey, rather than a current telling), I simply found that the footnotes took me out of the story. Imagine – you’re reading, getting into the flow of the plot and the story, and then suddenly you see a star, indicating a jump down to the footnotes (normally to explain some religious or historical connotations). You go to read the (potentially long) footnote, then must try to find your place on the page above, and get back into the flow of the plot. Imagine this happens 2-3 times per page, and you can see how this may become a bit of an issue for a reader. Personally, I simply stopped reading the footnotes, unless there was something I truly didn’t understand. In contrast, a bit of world-building that I truly enjoyed was the parallel story-lines (between past and present) at the very beginning of Nevernight. In one instant, Mia is in the present, and in the other, her past is being highlighted as a parallel to the present, quickly building Mia’s character, as well as bringing the reader up to speed on the political and personal pasts which influence the story going forward.
Kristoff continues his prowess of writing throughout the novel, producing a fantastic bit of storytelling (with or without the footnotes). One can tell that this series will be an epic journey, and if Nevernight is to be any indication, riddled with twists and turns that will keep readers on the edge of their seats.
From this point on the discussion in this review will feature spoilers – if you have not read Nevernight, I recommend ceasing your reading now and coming back once you’ve finished the book!
There were two very intriguing points to this story (in my opinion), both which kind of remained in the background (either the whole time, or until the end).
- The first is Mia’s Darkin powers, which remain relatively unexplained and unexplored throughout this novel. Kristoff has revealed that Mia can summon shadows to cloak herself, and has a familiar, Mister Kindly, who is more shadow than cat. Mister Kindly also appears to be able to siphon off Mia’s fear and shield her from her nightmares; in fact, it is implied that he feeds off her fear, and without the fear of the Darkin, he could not exist. Furthermore, Mia also seems to be able to use the shadows of others to fight, though her control over this aspect of her powers is largely unexplored and untested. Another Darkin, Lord Cassius, does appear in the story, with a notably more powerful familiar and better control over his powers, however he dies before her is able to learn much from him. Following his death, his familiar, now tied to Mia (in addition to Mister Kindly), divulges that Cassius was never interested in exploring the nature of his powers. I am sincerely hoping that we will learn more about the Darkin and see Mia’s powers grow in subsequent novels, as I feel that this direction could be very intriguing and complex, leading Mia and Mister Kindly (who is arguably my favourite character), on quite the adventure.
- The second is the underlying murder mystery, which finally comes to the surface at the conclusion of the novel. Many readers felt that they had the murderer pinned from the get-go, but I suppose we should have known Kristoff wouldn’t hand us the answer that easily. Instead, he left a subtle trail of crumbs throughout the pages of the book, which becomes starkly obvious once the true murderers, and the larger plot at play, are revealed. Who is always sneaking around at night? Who knows more about the Red Church than they ought to? Who is deliberately mediocre, never drawing attention to themselves? Who else was in Mia’s room? Who, if their story was differently framed, could potentially have a vendetta against the Red Church? Once their identity is revealed, it becomes quite clear that individuals Mia thought were friends are in fact the murderers, and not simply because they wanted to better their odds of becoming Blades. No, instead, their plot runs much deeper, coming to a head in a plot to overthrow the Red Church. I loved how understated the murders initially were, slowly building in the background, punctuated by moments of highlight (the discovery of new bodies, Mia and Tric’s whipping, etc.), until the underlying plot explodes, wrapping the entire story throughout the book together into its final, critical moments.
Finally, I want to discuss Mia a bit, because I feel like there’s still so much we don’t know (aside from the extent of her Darkin powers). Late in the book it is revealed (to Mia and the reader, as Mia seems to have locked away the traumatic memories) that Mia perpetuated the TrueDark Massacre at the Philosopher’s Stone, in an attempt to free her mother and brother. The fate of her mother and infant brother was a point of interest for me, because, while Kristoff revealed that they had been sent to the Philosopher’s Stone, he never divulged how Mia knew for certain they were dead. That is, until Mia (in a moment of hard-headed bravery) forces Mister Kindly to take Tric’s pain during the whipping instead of her own, launching herself into a pain-induced vision of sorts. During this vision, the memories she had forgotten regarding her role in the TrueDark massacre are revealed. Beyond anything else, this highlights that Mia has no idea what the true extent of her powers could be (although we can assumed they’ll be catastrophic to her enemies after that snapshot), and the extent to which Mia struggles with the traumas of her past.
Overall, Nevernight was an intriguing read, and definitely a great addition to the Adult Fantasy genre. It was unlike anything I’ve read thus far, and I am excited to read more from Kristoff as this plot continues. However, the dull, drawn out introduction to the story cannot be ignored, and it definitely took away from my overall love for this book. That being said, Kristoff made up for it with his fantastic storytelling abilities and intriguing characters, so I think we can forgive him for a little bit of info-dumping.